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Lesson 4

Answer: The Founders submitted the facts that showed King George had violated the principles that limit free government to the whole world. This shows the Founders considered these principles to be universal - to apply everywhere. What are these principles? Read On!

The First Paragraph of the Declaration

"When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and eqaul Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."

 


Sir William Blackstone
(1723-1780) Knight, King's Counsel, Solicitor to the Queen, Member of Parliament, and a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and the King's Bench. His Commentaries on the Laws of England grew out of his lectures as a professor at Oxford, and were published in four volumes from 1765-1769.

 

 

The First Sentence of the Declaration's Second Paragraph

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness..."

 

The Rules that Limit Government

And Protect Our Rights

Because the rights the colonists claimed were their rights as Englishmen, for our Declaration of Independence to be valid, it had to be based on the same principles that formed the basis of English liberty. The Founders presented the strongest argument they could make for independence: that Great Britain's government had become illegitimate by violating its own principles. The Founders stated clearly what these principles were in the Declaration's very first paragraph. The principles that Britain had violated and that entitled the colonies to become a separate and equal nation were "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." These were the rules that justified the Founders' conclusion that we must declare independence.

We don't often hear this phrase used anymore, and nowadays there is a lot of confusion about what "natural law" is. But to Attorney Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration's drafter, and the lawmakers of the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration, this phrase had an exact meaning. It also had an exact meaning to King George and Parliament, to whom the Declaration was addressed. The reason? The phrase was a direct quote from virtually the only law book in existence in the colonies at the time, a book that not only explained English Law in detail, but also laid out the foundation of English Law and Liberty: Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law of England.

To discover what the Founders meant by the phrase "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," we need only look at what Blackstone wrote. Blackstone defined law, in general, as a rule of action established by a superior that an inferior must obey. By example, he noted that God had established certain natural laws, like gravity, which physical things, be they rocks, plants, or human bodies, must always obey. Blackstone passed over these unalterable physical laws to focus on the laws that govern human action, the laws by which man, "a creature endowed with both reason and free-will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior."

To explain how the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God applied to human conduct and government, Blackstone began with the fact that man is created by God. The Founders chose this same starting point in the opening sentence of the Declaration's second paragraph (below left), the paragraph that explains how the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God gave us the right to throw off British rule. Blackstone then explained that because of man's state of total dependence on God, man is obliged to restrain his free-will and should, instead, "in all points, conform to his Maker's will." "This will of his Maker," Blackstone said, "is called the law of nature," and is the "eternal immutable laws of good and evil" - the rules for what is right and wrong - to which God Himself conforms. So the first principle on which the Founder's staked American independence, and freedom for the American people - "the Laws of Nature" - are God's own rules of right and wrong!


Question: When the Declaration refers to the "Laws of Nature" it's using a legal term of art with a precise meaning, as explained in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. What did Blackstone say the "Laws of Nature" were?


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